March: Prep

March 29, 2009

Ruggles helps with the tester rib

Ruggles helps with the tester rib

Sorry I haven’t been around, internet. I was on vacation, but this month’s dinner happened nonetheless. I’m feeling sort of proud of myself, because despite two major mishaps, I neither got all frustrated nor threw anything out. Maybe I’m getting better at this stuff?

The menu changed quite a bit since the last post. It’s difficult, like I said before, because March is just crap in terms of stuff in season. No spring foods, but the winter foods are gone (case in point: originally, I wanted the salmon dish to be with pomegranate seeds, and I went to every store I could think of and no pomegranates. Guess they just ended. Nertz!)

So yes, the first big issue was the lack of poms. My idea was to have them in with the salmon to kind of look like roe and pop like roe, but be sweet. I thought it would go well with the ceviche-style salmon cubes, but now I will never know.

stripey!

stripey!

I ended up just doing avocado chunks, which is much less interesting and kind of cliche, but I’d already invested in this lovely hunk of fish and I only had three hours till dinner so I had to think fast.

The other major issue was this:

I don’t know what I was thinking with this plan. I had made these chipotle chocolate cakes before so I knew how dense and pudding-y they were. The idea was to do a dessert about spiciness, so I wanted ginger and chili to come together in a sweet way. I was going to make ginger pastry cream and bake the cakes with holes in the bottoms, so I could hide the pastry cream under the cake and it would be a little surprise.

prep: broccoli marrow bones

prep: broccoli marrow bones

Any smart person would’ve baked and unmolded the cakes, then cut a hole, but instead I had some weird idea to bake them with little cups in them, take the cups out, unmold, and have these perfect cakes-with-holes. Of course I got a messy wad of sticky cake.

I ended up mashing the cake into plastic wrap, putting down a blob of pastry cream, them using the plastic to make a little orb. Kinda ugly, but not terrible.

Frank does his duty

Frank does his duty

The only other real challenge was that I was doing this short rib dish I couldn’t taste (since I don’t eat land animals.) Frank was kind enough to help out in that department, and I think everything was okay.

The sous vide machine worked awesome, and all in all this was the least stressful, yet in some ways best, of the dinners so far. Am I jinxing myself to say I might be figuring some of this stuff out? No doubt. Stay tuned for dinner pictures…

March: Bonus Feature

March 2, 2009

Yeah, thats pink wine. What?

Yeah, that's pink wine. What?

So it’s not a monthly dinner thing but it was my partner, Frank, and my sixth annivesary this weekend. We were going to go to wd~50 but it didn’t work out, so instead we cooked. The menu was just sort of simple stuff that we really like–didn’t feel like working too hard or trying anything new, just the classics.

Steak for Francis

Steak for Francis

Originally, we’d planned three savory courses, cheese and dessert (plus one interstial, um, unspeakable course. Can’t do that at wd~50!)

shuckin oysters

shuckin' oysters

Unfortunately, we got super full after the main, so we ate the cheese and dessert with leftovers the next day. Overall, I thought it was pretty tasty.

things to be eaten

things to be eaten

Coincidentally, it was “Open That Bottle” night, started by my favorite wine reviewers from the Wall Street Journal. We were planning on opening it anyway, but hey, great, synergy. This Pinot Noir was a birthday gift from my sister a few years ago (she lives in Carneros):

delish: soft and round with lots of vanilla

delish: soft and round with lots of vanilla

Before that we had some pink bubbles:

yum: I love bubbles

yum: I love bubbles

We started with oysters:

malpeques, blue points, kumamoto, and something else I forgot

malpeques, blue points, kumamoto, and something else I forgot

Then a scallop:

scallop with chantarelles, cauliflower puree, chive oil

scallop with chantarelles, cauliflower puree, chive oil

Then a bifurcated main course. For Frank:

steak (cooked to 57 degrees), mashed potatoes, worschester sauce

steak (cooked to 57 degrees), mashed potatoes, worschester sauce

The steak didn’t sear up as hard as Frank wanted which means one thing: time to buy a blowtorch! Whoo!

For me, a pasta made from my very favorite Italian dry pasta:

saffron cream sauce, spinach, crab

saffron cream sauce, spinach, crab

This is where we gave up and went to bed, very full. Dinner got started late and we were tired. The cheese was really good though, the next day for dinner. A fromager d’affinois and a really good monte enebro. Plus dessert:

dense chocolate cake, Cointreau creme anglaise, blood orange sauce

dense chocolate cake, Cointreau creme anglaise, blood orange sauce

And that’s that. Happy anniversary, me. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

More steak shots for the meat inclined: dont get too used to it.

More steak shots for the meat inclined: don't get too used to it.

February: Recap

February 22, 2009

The game plan

The game plan

So without further ado, here are the dinner photos. Allow me to re-remind you that I am a terrible photographer, and being rushed with dim light helps nobody. You might have to use your imagination a bit.

Red and yellow beets, goat feta, dill, and balsamic vinegar:

amuse beets

amuse beets

These were good. Maybe could’ve use a tad more salt.

Scallop, miso mustard sauce, cress, broiled grapefruit, long pepper:

I wish I’d gotten more color on the scallops. I did the grapefruit in the broiler and that smoked everything up because we have no venting to speak of, so I didn’t get the pan as hot as I should have. Also couldn’t find peppercress. Still: solid dish.

Sunchokes two ways: cold salad and hot soup:

People liked this. Some of the guests hadn’t had sunchokes before, which was kinda cool. I would like the rest of my thumb back, though.

Cheese grits, butter-poached shrimp, mushrooms, hot spring egg, hot sauce:

This was a real crowd pleaser. There were several grit-loving Floridians in the crowd and bowls were licked clean. Unfortunately, I think it was too heavy to fit with the rest of the meal–I definitely felt full after this course. I tried to keep everything small, but even so, too many courses I think.

Celeriac raviolo, braised celery, parsley, fennel, celery salt:

This was okay. I had intended it to be sort of refreshing with the celery–I was debating between this and a lemony pasta. Maybe celery’s just not that exciting or maybe I was getting too full. This was a meh.

Halibut with saffron broth, parsnip puree, spinach, garlic puree, chive oil, grapefruit zest, and parsnip chips:

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

This was a partial steal from Thomas Keller–he has a whitefish, parsnip puree, spinach, saffron sauce dish. I added a few things and took a few others away. His is no doubt superior, but I liked it nonetheless. Like I said, the halibut was a last minute but fortunate addition. My problems with the water bath meant that I ended up with hotter fish than I’d planned, but that was probably good since it took a minute to get them all to the table. Successful dish, though a bit fussy. The parsnip chips were really good with it, I thought.

Campari lime rosemary granita:

The survivors

The survivors

Very good. Glad some could be saved after the accident.

Cheese:

Crottin de chavignol, Idiazabal, French raclette, gorgonzola dolce

Definitely not necessary this time, as people were stuffed. I like to have cheese. If I did this menu again, I’d trim from the savory courses.

Brown butter hazelnut cake with yogurt jam and kabocha squash glaze, frozen creme fraiche, candied squash, and brown butter solids:

This was yum. The cake is from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook. All around good.

Green tea truffles, mango pate de fruits, earl grey tea cookies:

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mostly these didn’t get touched, as people were full, but friends had sampled them all earlier and liked them. There’s enough left over for snacking this week, which, score.

My full friends

My full friends

In general, I would say this menu was successful, despite a near-constant level of disaster in the prep. Like I said, there was way too much food. Last month people still seemed hungry at the end, or at least not full, so I added a course. That was a mistake. This menu had a lot more protein and the heavy grits dish, and it was too much. I have a pretty enormous appetite and I was uncomfortably full.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

For next time, I think that I’ll cut a savory course. Or the other thing I’m kind of interested in is alternating “full sized” (though still small, in comparison to a normal meal) courses with tiny ones, like the size of the first beet course.  That might be a lot more work–I’ll have to think about it.

Sleepy Dan

Sleepy Dan

I’m also not sure if having a fish course is worth the extra money good fish costs. It was tasty, but not a show-stopper. Shellfish are so much cheaper and maybe more exciting in the end.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

I know all of you omnivores are rolling your eyes. I guess I should just try out some different things. Oh and plug in the sous vide machine correctly.

All clean and ready for bed.

All clean and ready for bed.

Anyway, that’s February in the can. I am fully tuckered, but happy. Two down, ten to go. Now, who’s excited about March?

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

February: Dateline Ikea

February 17, 2009

Little bowls, plus batteries for my aquarium bubbler

Little bowls, plus batteries for my aquarium bubbler

I am helpless against Ikea’s cheap plates and kitchenware. Bought some tiny bowls and tiny, uh shallow bowls. For amuses bouches!

Chairs! Last month someone had to sit on a bar stool.

Chairs! Last month someone had to sit on a bar stool.

I was short four chairs, so I went and got them. Now each person gets to sit in their very own chair. The car service guys at Ikea are so funny. First the guy tries to quote me $15 for an $8 car ride, then he says I overpaid for chairs. Dude, Lowe’s wanted twice that for metal ones, come on. Anyway. Gratuitous cat shot:

Generally, my cats are fighting with each other all the time.

Generally, my cats are fighting with each other all the time.